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AlphaBay

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AlphaBay
Alphabaylogo.png
Alphabaylogin.png
AlphaBay login screen
Type of site
Darknet market
Available inEnglish
OwnerDeSnake
Created byDeSnake[1]
RevenueOver USD$23M (total over operation)[2]
URLalphabay522szl32u4ci5e3iokdsyth56ei7rwngr2wm7i5jo54j2eid.onion Tor network(Accessing link help) [3]
CommercialYes
RegistrationRequired
Users400,000+[4]
LaunchedSeptember 2014[2]
Current statusOnline since August 2021[5]

AlphaBay is a darknet market operating both as an onion service on the Tor network and as an I2P node on I2P. After it was shut down in July 2017 following law enforcement action in the United States, Canada, and Thailand as part of Operation Bayonet, it was relaunched in August 2021 by the self-described co-founder and security administrator DeSnake.[1][5][6] The alleged original founder, Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian citizen born on 19 October 1991,[2][7] was found dead in his cell in Thailand several days after his arrest, with police suspecting suicide.[8][9][10][11]

History[edit]

AlphaBay reportedly launched in September 2014,[2] pre-launched in November 2014 and officially launched on December 22, 2014. It saw a steady growth, with 14,000 new users in the first 90 days of operation. The darknet informer website Gwern.net placed AlphaBay Market in the top tier of markets regarding the 6-month survival probability and it had proven to be successful.[12] In October 2015, it was recognized as the largest online darknet market according to Dan Palumbo, research director at Digital Citizens Alliance.[13]

Non-standard services included customizable digital contracts around building reputations.[14]

In May 2015, the site announced an integrated digital contracts and escrow system.[15] The contract system allows users to make engagements and agree to provide services in the future, according to the terms of the contract.

By October 2015, AlphaBay had over 200,000 users.[4]

At the time of its demise in July 2017, AlphaBay had over 400,000 users.[4]

AlphaBay is noteworthy in the world of darknet markets for accepting another cryptocurrency in addition to bitcoin; support for Monero, supposedly more anonymous, was implemented at the end of August 2016.[16]

Site breaches[edit]

In April 2016, AlphaBay's API was compromised leading to 13,000 messages being stolen.[17] In January 2017, the API was once again compromised, allowing over 200,000 private messages from the last 30 days and a list of usernames to be leaked. The attack was from a single hacker who was paid by AlphaBay for the disclosure. AlphaBay reported that the exploit had only been used in conjunction with this attack and not used previously.[18]

News coverage[edit]

On March 28, 2015, AlphaBay Market made the news for selling stolen Uber accounts.[19][20] Uber made a statement regarding a potential data breach:

"We investigated and found no evidence of a breach. Attempting to fraudulently access or sell accounts is illegal and we notified the authorities about this report. This is a good opportunity to remind people to use strong and unique usernames and passwords and to avoid reusing the same credentials across multiple sites and services."

In October 2015, the London-based telecommunications company TalkTalk sustained a major hack.[21] The stolen data was put for sale on AlphaBay Market, which led to the arrest of a 15-year-old boy.[22] TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding issued the following statement:

"TalkTalk constantly updates its systems to make sure they are as secure as possible against the rapidly evolving threat of cyber crime, impacting an increasing number of individuals and organisations. We take any threat to the security of our customers' data extremely seriously and we are taking all the necessary steps to understand what has happened here."

In August 2017, AlphaBay was revealed as a possible venue by which one of the perpetrators of the 2017 Jewish Community Center bomb threats may have sold a "School Email Bomb Threat Service." This individual, Michael Kadar, made 245 threatening calls to schools and community centers. Criminologist David Decary-Hetu noted this event as notable for being the first example of criminal services being sold over a darkmarket. He said, "All the cases I have heard of so far turned out to be law enforcement trying to find people of interest," making this case unique in his experience to that point.[23]

Seizure and shutdown[edit]

By July 2017, AlphaBay was ten times the size of its predecessor Silk Road[24] (which was busted in October 2013), had over 369,000 listings,[2] 400,000 users,[4] was facilitating US$600,000-$800,000 of transactions per day,[25] and had reportedly built a strong reputation.[2][26] However, a series of elementary operational security errors led to its downfall:

Notice left on the Tor hidden service after AlphaBay closed
  • About the time the service first began in December 2014, Cazes used his Hotmail address pimp_alex_91@hotmail.com as the 'From' address in system generated welcome and password reset emails, which he also used for his LinkedIn profile and his legitimate computer repair business in Canada.[2]
  • Cazes used a pseudonym, Alpha02, to run the site which he had previously used (e.g., in carding and tech forums) since at least 2008, and variously advertised this identity as the "designer", "administrator" and "owner" of the site.[2][27]
  • When Cazes was arrested, he was logged into his laptop performing an administrative reboot on an AlphaBay server in direct response to a law-enforcement-created artificial system failure; furthermore, encryption was wholly absent on said laptop.[2][28]
  • Cazes' laptop reportedly contained an unencrypted personal net worth statement mapping all global assets across multiple jurisdictions, conveniently leading police to complete asset seizure.[2]
  • The servers were hosted at a company in Canada directly linked to his person.[2]
  • The servers contained multiple constantly open (unencrypted) hot cryptocurrency wallets.[2]
  • Cazes' flashy use of proceeds to purchase property, passports and luxury cars and frequent online boasting about his financial successes, including posting videos of himself driving luxury cars acquired through illegal proceeds, not only revealed his geographical location, it perforce made denying connection to the service impossible.[2]
  • Assets acquired through proceeds were held in a variety of accounts directly linked to Cazes, his wife and companies they owned in Thailand (the same jurisdiction they lived), as well as directly held personal accounts in Liechtenstein, Cyprus, Switzerland and Antigua.[2]
  • Cazes' statements about the goal of the site — "launched in September 2014 and its goal is to become the largest eBay-style underworld marketplace" — helped to legally establish intent.[2]

Timeline[edit]

Law enforcement took at least one month to obtain a US warrant, then over one month to obtain foreign warrants, prepare for and execute searches and seizures in Canada and Thailand:[2]

  • Early May 2017: Law Enforcement verifiably active on the site since at least this period.[2]
  • 1 June 2017: Warrant issued by United States District Court for the Eastern District of California for racketeering, narcotics trafficking, identity theft and access device fraud, transfer of false ID, trafficking in illegal device making equipment, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.[2]
  • 30 June 2017: Warrant is issued for Cazes' arrest in Thailand at US request.[29][30]
  • 5 July 2017
    • Canadian police raid EBX Technologies in Montreal, Cazes' Canadian company and the reported location of the physical servers, as well as two residential properties in Trois-Rivières.[31]
    • Cazes is arrested in Bangkok at his dwelling at Phutthamonthon Sai 3 Road in Thawi Watthana district which is searched by the Royal Thai Police, with the help of the FBI and DEA.[2][29]
  • 12 July 2017: Cazes' suspected suicide by hanging while in custody at Thailand's Narcotics Suppression Bureau headquarters in Laksi district, Bangkok, was reportedly discovered at 7AM. He was due to face US extradition.[2][29]
  • 16 July 2017: Cazes' wife was reported as having been charged with money laundering.[32][33]
  • 20 July 2017; U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces shutdown of the site.[34]
  • 23 July 2017: Narcotics Suppression Bureau chief is interviewed and suggests that more suspects will be arrested soon.[35]

Relaunch[edit]

As early as 8 August 2021, AlphaBay was online again.[36] Details of the new operation surfaced after a conversation between Wired and a user with the same verified public key as a former site administrator for AlphaBay. Using the alias DeSnake, the former vendor and self-described co-founder of the original AlphaBay now claims to operate the marketplace, placing a higher emphasis on operations security than the previous administration, stating "there is no overkill" regarding the site.[1]

As part of the site's relaunch, multiple new features have been advertised and new rules announced. Notable among new features are AlphaGuard (which allegedly prevents users from losing funds even if seizures on all servers occur at the same time), an automatic system to resolve disputes between buyers and sellers, exclusive use of Monero wallets, and the offering of I2P mirrors.[1] Concerning rules, items newly prohibited from sale include COVID-19 vaccines, firearms, products containing fentanyl, pornography, and "hitman services". Furthermore, there is a ban on discussions of any public or private information related to the governments, organizations, or people of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan.[37] This has led to loose speculation that there is a connection between the site operators and the governments of these nations.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Greenberg, Andy (September 23, 2021). "He Escaped the Dark Web's Biggest Bust. Now He's Back". Wired. Condé Nast Publications. Archived from the original on September 23, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Forfeiture Complaint". Justice.gov. 20 July 2017. p. 27.
  3. ^ "AlphaBay - Darknetlive". Archived from the original on 2022-02-01.
  4. ^ a b c d Cimpanu, Catalin (July 14, 2017). "AlphaBay Dark Web Market Taken Down After Law Enforcement Raids". Bleeping Computer. Archived from the original on July 14, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Ilascu, Ionut (August 12, 2021). "Notorious AlphaBay darknet market comes back to life". Bleeping Computer. Archived from the original on August 12, 2021.
  6. ^ Statt, Nick (July 14, 2017). "Dark Web drug marketplace AlphaBay was shut down by law enforcement". The Verge. Vox Media. Archived from the original on July 15, 2017.
  7. ^ Tu Thanh Ha; Freeze, Colin (July 20, 2017). "Canadian allegedly behind shuttered Dark Web market AlphaBay". The Globe and Mail. The Woodbridge Company. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017.
  8. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (July 13, 2017). "AlphaBay taken down by law enforcement across 3 countries, WSJ says". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on July 13, 2017.
  9. ^ Murdoch, Lindsay (July 15, 2017). "AlphaBay suspected co-founder Alexandre Cazes found dead in Thai jail". Brisbane Times. Nine Entertainment. Archived from the original on July 16, 2017. Police said evidence points to Mr Cazes having taking his own life.
  10. ^ "Massive blow to criminal Dark Web activities after globally coordinated operation". 20 July 2017. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  11. ^ "AlphaBay, the Largest Online 'Dark Market,' Shut Down". Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. 20 July 2017.
  12. ^ Branwen, Gwern (30 October 2013). "Black-market risks - Gwern.net". Gwern. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ "Buying Drugs Online Remains Easy". Southwest Coalition.
  14. ^ Francis, Ryan (13 October 2016). "Darkweb marketplaces can get you more than just spam and phish". Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  15. ^ Cox, Joseph (May 1, 2015). "This Dark Web Market Just Started Offering Contracts for Anything". Vice. Vice Media. Archived from the original on November 8, 2020.
  16. ^ C. Aliens (August 23, 2016). "AlphaBay and Oasis Markets to Begin Accepting Monero for Payments". Archived from the original on November 5, 2016.
  17. ^ Cox, Joseph (April 27, 2016). "Vulnerability in Huge Dark Web Marketplace Exposes Private Messages". Vice. Vice Media. Archived from the original on April 28, 2016.
  18. ^ Murdock, Jason (January 24, 2017). "AlphaBay leak: Over 200,000 private messages from Dark Web drugs marketplace hacked". International Business Times. IBT Media. Archived from the original on January 25, 2017.
  19. ^ Cox, Joseph (March 27, 2015). "Stolen Uber Customer Accounts Are for Sale on the Dark Web for $1". Vice. Vice Media. Archived from the original on November 8, 2020.
  20. ^ Nield, David (March 28, 2015). "Stolen Uber accounts on sale for $1 each". Digital Trends. Digital Trends Media Group. Archived from the original on March 28, 2015.
  21. ^ Brian, Matt (October 23, 2015). "TalkTalk hacked in 'significant and sustained cyberattack'". Engadget. AOL. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015.
  22. ^ Osborne, Charlie (October 27, 2015). "15-year-old arrested over TalkTalk hack". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on October 27, 2015.
  23. ^ Gurman, Sadie (August 8, 2017). "Docs: Bomb threats suspect offered services on dark net". Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 17, 2017.
  24. ^ Leyden, John (July 20, 2017). "Cops harpoon two dark net whales in megabust: AlphaBay and Hansa". The Register. Situation Publishing. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017.
  25. ^ Popper, Nathaniel (July 6, 2017). "AlphaBay, Biggest Online Drug Bazaar, Goes Dark, and Questions Swirl". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 7, 2017.
  26. ^ Leovy, Jill (July 20, 2017). "AlphaBay sold drugs, guns and hacking tools online — until a sting operation shut it down". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017.
  27. ^ Cox, Joseph (July 20, 2017). "Alleged Dark Web Kingpin Doxed Himself With His Personal Hotmail Address". Vice. Vice Media. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020.
  28. ^ McCarthy, Kieren (July 20, 2017). "Alphabay shutdown: Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? Not use your Hotmail..." The Register. Situation Publishing. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017.
  29. ^ a b c "Dead Canadian fugitive lived in Thai luxury". Bangkok Post. July 14, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. ^ Ngamkham, Wassayos (July 12, 2017). "Canadian drug suspect found hanged in cell". Bangkok Post.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  31. ^ "RCMP's 'Dark Web' investigation leads to searches in Montreal, Trois-Rivières". Montreal Gazette. Postmedia Network. July 5, 2017. Archived from the original on July 5, 2017.
  32. ^ Swenson, Kyle (July 18, 2017). "Suspected AlphaBay founder dies in Bangkok jail after shutdown of online black market". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017.
  33. ^ "Thailand seizes $21 million in assets from dead founder of dark net marketplace AlphaBay". Reuters. Thomson Reuters. July 24, 2017. Archived from the original on June 9, 2018.
  34. ^ "Sessions on dark web Alphabay and Hansa shut down". BBC News. BBC. July 20, 2017. Archived from the original on July 23, 2017.
  35. ^ "9 nations join probe into 'darknet' site". Bangkok Post. July 24, 2017. NSB poised to pounce on more suspects{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  36. ^ "AlphaBay Darknet Market is Back!". www.linkedin.com. Retrieved 2021-10-22.
  37. ^ "AlphaBay Marketplace Re-emerges". Flashpoint. 2021-08-10. Retrieved 2021-10-22.

See also[edit]